This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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The Zanesville Rube Band

18 October 2013

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Clowns and music have been partners in foolishness since forever. What fun would Carnival and  Mardi Gras be without musicians in masquerade? How would ancient folk traditions like Mummers Plays continue without musicians and dancers in elaborate costumes? In American culture, the clown band became a popular entertainment with small town society groups, and the Rube Band of Zanesville, Ohio was a great example of that silliness.

This large format photograph shows twenty musicians dressed in a wild assortment of crazy outfits. Some wear masks, while others are in makeup. One man wears a woman's dress and wig. Their instruments are mostly brass cornets, tenor horns, and trombones along with a few drums, a clarinet, and a penny whistle. Stenciled on the bass drum head is Rube Band, and in the corner the photographer has written:
Copyright 1908 
by J. Lincoln Smith
Zanesville, O.

Mr. Smith even took the time to record it in the official U.S. Catalog of Copyright Entries as taken on June 17, 1908.

The name Eagle Rube Band refers to the Fraternal Order of Eagles which was a mutual aid society organized in 1898 by 6 theater owners. The membership was initially made up of men associated with the performing arts. The group is credited with creating the holiday of Mother's Day and advocating for the establishment of Social Security.

Born in 1860, the photographer John Lincoln Smith came from a family of Prussian emigrants, and his parents moved to Zanesville, OH from Baltimore. Smith's photography studio was listed in the Zanesville city directory from around 1890 to 1922. As a town photographer he became quite a prominent member of his community. A biographical sketch was included in a gazette of Ohio's Muskingum County social elite. It notes the following:

Mr. Smith is connected with a number of fraternities, being a valued representative of the Masons, Knights of Pythias, Odd Fellows, Red Men, Woodmen, Maccabees and the Royal Arcanum, while at one time he was also an Elk. His political views accord with republican principles and at one time he was a trustee of the city cemeteries.

Sadly, Mr.Smith suffered some illness or injury, and in his later life was described as totally paralyzed and confined to a wheel chair. He died in 1923.

The Zanesville Rube Band performed not only in Zanesville but also at numerous F.O.E. conventions around the country. In August 1905 the Denver Rocky Mountain News reported: 

The famous, or rather infamous, Rube band of Zaneville, is here in a special car, and will make things hum when the parades come on. It is led by Professsor Dasmer Dittmer of Zanesville, and is strictly an Eagle's organization. Their work is altogether done in Rube makeup and they are said to be the best organization of the kind in the country. It consists of thirty pieces and together with John Rhinehart, the delegate from Zanesville Aerie No.31, the members represent the city.

The Rotarian
September 1916

In September 1916, a photo of the Rube Band appeared in The Rotarian, <<click this link if you can't see the image above|  the monthly journal of the International Rotary Clubs, in a report on the Rotary Club convention in Cinncinatti, OH. Evidently the band either changed sponsorship or was part of multiple fraternal groups. I found them also appearing for the United Commercial Travelers Society, and the Letter Carriers Union. By the late 1930s, the Zanesville Rube Band seems to have ceased clownish activity.

In 1943, on the death of its longtime bandleader, Fred Geiger Jr., a Zanesville newspaper described how the band was responsible for inventing a popular phrase for the city.

The story is told of how the Zanesville band, composed of able and talented musicians, once stole the show at a big convention in Denver. Mounted on a truck, the band attracted a large throng of Denver children. From the truck, someone would shout: "What's the capital of the world?"  To which the Colorado youngsters would reply in unison: "Zanesville!" Their reward was always a handful of pennies, taken from a barrel on the back end of the truck.

Today many Masonic lodges have clown bands that march in parades and perform at civic events with a similar tradition. But there is a serious flip side to all the fun. Bands like the Zanesville Rube Band were a good advertisement for community development. A celebrated band could both boost and boast about the great social and commercial interests of a town.

Even The Capital of the World needed wacky cheerleaders.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where this weekend everyone is in costume!


tony said...

Bravo! Youve Come up Trumps Again!What A Splendid Band !Eat Your Heart Out Sargent Pepper!!!!

Gail Perlee said...

Bands and costumes - what fun! Great post.

Rob From Amersfoort said...

I've seen some clownesque musicians in Holland, besides funny they are also amazing musicians.

Little Nell said...

That's certainly a mix of costumes in that first picture, which makes it all the more interesting.

Boobook said...

Marvellous photo.

Liz Needle said...

What a fascinating photo. I could lookat it for ages and see new stuff all the time. Unfortunately the last photo did not come up on my computer.

Colleen G. Brown Pasquale said...

That Rube band is wonderful. I'd buy a ticket to hear them preform!

Helen Bauch McHargue said...

What great costumes! They look like they're really enjoying the fun. I don't know how you come up with the perfect musical connection for every prompt. So clever.

Postcardy said...

I don't think I have ever seen/heard a clown band. I sounds like it would be an amusing experience.

Karen S. said...

What a bang up good time this was. You are amazing on how you put a post together so perfectly with your photos for our theme! They are great too!

Anonymous said...

Great to get the background information on the Rube Band. It looks like great fun.

Hazel Ceej said...

The very first sentence was instant fun to me. Silliness sometimes makes people forget problems.


Tattered and Lost said...

Okay, I seriously want to hear them play. I want to experience the Zanesville Rube Band!

Kat Mortensen said...

I love that bit about Mrs. Trestrail of Toronto trying to bring a lamb to event.

Highly entertaining!


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